Dear Rabbi Fried,
Thank you for your help last week for our confirmation assignment to answer the question “Who am I?” In a nutshell, we understood from your answer that everyone has a life-force, like the animals, called nefesh, which pulls a person towards physical pleasures. They have a soul called neshamah, which pulls a person to heaven. And the connection is called ruach, which is the struggle between the two sides, and that is “I” in this world. This explains a lot, but it leads us to another question: Why would God create us in a struggle? Why not just create us with neshamah, and not have to have us be “referees” in a fight between two opposing pulls? Thanks for your time.
Jessica, Amber and Leigh
Dear Jessica, Amber and Leigh,
Great question! Keep on thinking and asking!
I will answer your question the Jewish way, with a question! If the eternal part of us is our neshamah, our soul, and everything else is just here for a while, why did G-d put our souls into this physical world altogether? Why even create a physical world? Let there just be a world of souls.
The answer is given by the Kabbalistic masters: G-d is a giver, and created our souls to be recipients of His giving. When G-d gives, He wants to give to the ultimate, to allow the recipients to receive His goodness with the ultimate joy and ecstasy possible.
Whenever one receives a present from another, as incredible as it may be, it always comes with a postscript which hinders one’s ability to enjoy it completely: that it is a gift. What I mean is, that when you receive a present, by definition of its being a gift (and not a payment for services, etc.), you did nothing to deserve it. Deep down is a tiny feeling of embarrassment at having received something for nothing.
The Kabbalists call this nahama d’kisufa, or “bread of shame.” If G-d had created souls only, and put them in a “world of souls” which would be a place to receive G-d’s bliss and goodness, they would truly enjoy all the goodness bestowed upon them. This enjoyment, however, would not be complete, because it would be “bread of shame” as the souls would know that they did nothing to deserve this kindness. Since they did nothing to acquire it through their own efforts, it doesn’t really “belong” to them.
The only way for G-d to enable the souls to have complete enjoyment and pleasure in His kindness would be for Him to give them an opportunity to do something to earn the goodness He wants to bestow upon them. For that, they need to be in a world where the souls can overcome something and end up on top. They need to struggle against something antithetical, and by winning that battle, to earn a portion in that goodness.
That is why G-d created a world of physicality and “forces” the soul to leave its spiritual environs to be wed to a body completely antithetical to its very existence, the nefesh. Now the conflict begins, to see which one comes out on top; or as we saw last week, is the rider controlling the horse, or the horse the rider?
For this reason, G-d purposely created an imperfect world. He wanted to give the soul a job to do in this world: to perfect it. It does so by overcoming the pull to physicality and making itself, and the world, a more spiritual, more G-dly place. This is the true meaning of tikkun olam, “fixing the world,” as it appears in its source in context: “letaken olam b’malchus Sha-dai” or “fixing the world, making it a kingdom of the Al-mighty.”
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Rabbi Fried,